Five Fairfax County supervisors, still sparring over the effect of their action, have drafted a controversial ethics policy aimed at deterring conflicts of interest and averting abuses in the county's regulation of the local development industry.
The policy, which is to be considered at Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting, would discourage officials and employes who leave the Fairfax government for jobs in private industry from trying to influence the county's actions to benefit their new employers.
The so-called revolving door guidelines would impose a one-year prohibition on those employes from reestablishing contact with the county on a program or project with which they had been "personally and substantially" involved.
The former Fairfax employes would be barred from appearing before county boards or commissions, discussing an issue with a county official by telephone or otherwise lobbying for county action on behalf of their new employers. The ban would not extend to their appearance before the county as private citizens on planning, zoning or other issues.
Among those covered by the restrictions would be the nine-member Board of Supervisors, as well as members of county boards, commissions and agencies. Exempted from the prohibition would be those serving on nonpaying county advisory panels.
In addition to establishing the policy, the five supervisors serving as the county board's personnel subcommittee will recommend that the board seek authority from the Virginia General Assembly to adopt the regulations as a Fairfax law. Unlike the policy, a law would allow the county to impose penalties.
The proposed policy was outlined by several members of the subcommittee, which includes Supervisors James M. Scott (D-Providence), Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville), Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason) and Joseph Alexander (D-Lee).
While reaching a consensus on the proposed guidelines, several board members resumed their heated debate over the policy's practical effect and its long-term implications on the county's ability to attract top-flight talent.
"I don't see how it [a policy] can make much difference, but if that will make them feel good we'll have it," said Falck, alluding to those who favor a policy pending the adoption of a law.
Moore disagreed, saying the policy would deter potential abuses if the supervisors backed it with more than a half-hearted endorsement.
"If the board adopts this as a policy and means it, and lets everybody know they mean it, these kinds of problems won't go on anymore," said Moore, who has been in the forefront of efforts to bring about ethics reform in Fairfax County. "Neither developers nor county employes are going to want to do anything the county frowns upon. But without the enthusiastic support of the supervisors and the county executive, it's not going to mean anything."
County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert has been critical of previous attempts to enact revolving-door guidelines -- as a policy or a law -- and Moore said he has continued to oppose it during the most recent debate of the issue. "He doesn't think it's enforceable, and he just doesn't like the whole idea of it," she said.
Lambert did not return a reporter's phone calls yesterday.
The ethics policy was drafted in the wake of a recent Washington Post article concerning the loss of large numbers of key county employes to developers and development industry consultants. It also reported that several former employes of the county, soon after their resignations from the government, were working in positions from which they could influence county policy.
The board has turned back previous attempts in the late 1970s and early 1980s to enact a law to address the problem. The guidelines included in the proposed policy are similar to those on the books as law in nearby Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Falck said she favored the proposal to seek enabling legislation to have the policy adopted as law, but added that she is skeptical of how the legislature will deal with it. She said she has "not been impressed with the zeal in which the General Assembly has pursued any ethics matters."
Davis echoed that assessment, saying the legislature "has not taken bold leadership on ethics questions."He added, "Maybe they will if it applies to someone else."